What are lectures for?

An item in the Guardian today entitled ‘Brightest students fail to shine in crowded lectures’, by Jessica Shepherd, led me to ask the question, what are lectures for and what are they meant to achieve?

I lecture to a wide range of classes, from foundation year to master’s level, and have always taken the view that the primary role of a lecture is to deliver information in an efficient way to a class of students. My powerpoint slides are available well in advance of the lecture, so students can print them out and bring them, and in the lecture I cover the material on the slides as well as adding extra information (like worked examples on the whiteboard, etc). Depending on the class there can be varying amounts of interaction, but I encourage questions and discussion at regular points throughout the lecture. After the lecture, students can ask questions, or arrange to see me at another time to discuss any points in more detail.

For that reason, I don’t really see it as an issue whether students ‘shine’ in lectures or not. They are given the basic information beforehand, which they can supplement during the lecture, and they can ask questions duringthe lecture or afterwards. For example, the brighter students might want more information on a specific topic; others may require a more detailed explanation of something. It doesn’t matter if the class has 50 or 150 students, as long as my timetable permits me to answer questions and provide extra support in the way outlined above.

In conclusion, it is what students get from lectures that is important, and in my view lectures remain the best way of teaching information-based subjects, as long as they are backed up by the availability of help as outlined above.

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